DOOM

Paul Thompson eats rappers as part of a complete breakfast

You know MF DOOM as the villain. Operation: Doomsday was the warning shot, the fractured origin story; Vaudeville Villain and the rest of the early-aughts side projects served as a slow crescendo to the main event. When Madvillainy finally hit shelves and cerebellums, there was no mistaking it—this was the takeover. DOOM and Madlib had set the evil plans in motion, and their conquest was quick, painful, and merciless. In five short years, the former Zev Love X had gone from upstart to talented curiosity to ruler of rap’s ill-defined underground. But there’s one question Madvillainy couldn’t answer: What does the illest villain do on his day off?

Released ten years ago this fall, MM…Food? (Rhymesayers) is DOOM in his most relaxed state, lounging around the crib in a mask and bathrobe. It’s almost entirely self-produced (save a Madvillain outtake here and a Count Bass D duet there); as such, Food is perhaps the clearest iteration of DOOM’s bizarre vision. Calling it ‘unfiltered’ would be speculative; no one knows what runs through the brain hidden under all that metal. But the album’s forty-nine minutes are a veritable odyssey of obscure audio clips and wink-and-nod sampling. To some, the record might be daunting, even impenetrable. Hooks are scarce, interludes are long—the middle of the album has an eight-minute stretch where nobody raps. Still, you get the sense there’s something bubbling under the surface, a unifying theme.

Maybe DOOM gives us the key early on. On “Beef Rapp”, he says of himself, “He wears a mask just to cover the raw flesh/A rather ugly brother with flows that’s gorgeous”. This has always been the premise of the DOOM character. The corridors of Daniel Dumile’s mind may be long and twisted, but they’re populated by Saturday morning cartoon characters and comic book also-rans. At its best, his music plays like a clever update on Wilde’s quip about laughter and truth. DOOM has a penchant for rapping about himself in the third person, and in doing so casting himself as the third-billed character in a folktale—the mysterious one the townspeople whisper about. Foregoing the grim reportage favored by his golden age ilk, DOOM instead holds a series of funhouse mirrors to society.

When he and the elusive Mr. Fantastik join forces to skewer rappers who detail their hustling on wax (“Rapp Snitch Knishes”), they do it by making a mockery of the whole thing. Instead of po-faced credential checking, they point at the general absurdity: “Do you see the perpetrator? ‘Yeah, I’m right here!’/Fuck around, get the whole label sent up for years.”

Yet as with all Dumile’s work, there are shadows lurking around every corner. DOOM has always used the cartoonish to mask the serious, but there are moments throughout Food when he forgoes all pretense. On “Kon Karne”, he looks back at bleaker times (“As I reminisce, never forget when I was very broke/Shot the Henny straight, couldn’t afford to cop the cherry Coke”), eventually dedicating the track to his late brother, Subroc. And no matter how playful the Ronnie Laws sample on “Deep Fried Frenz” may seem, the record is a vaguely haunting look into Dumile’s personal life. With Subroc’s passing as the backdrop, “Don’t let it get drastic—think of how your moms will feel” cuts through the tongue-in-cheek posturing and reads as a straight-faced plea.

MM…Food? is like mainlining DOOM, no frills, no contaminants. What occasionally gets lost in translation—and by translation, I mean the lunchboxes, the Cartoon Network bumper spots, the endless rumors—is that DOOM is a rapper’s rapper of the highest order. There’s a famous video of Mos Def in the studio, rapping DOOM lyrics ad infinitum, stopping only to marvel at what’s coming out of his own mouth. The phrases twist and bend, rhyme schemes rattling on dozens of words longer than they should. Mos is renowned more for his stark naturalism than for donning masks and rapping as a half-dozen alter egos; the two would not seem at first glance to be kindred spirits. But when, after Mos lays into yet another verse from MM…Food?, the camera operator says that rapping with DOOM might be a challenge, he shakes his head. “Actually, it would be fun. He rhymes as weird as I feel.”


We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!